Quantifying the influence of vegetation structure on wildfire behaviour in changing environments.

Climate change effects and variations in land management practices (e.g. reforesting, peatland restoration, prescribed burning) will influence the composition and structure of many future natural landscapes. Understanding the subsequent impact on the risk and severity of wildfires will require a detailed understanding of the effects of vegetation structure on fire behavior which challenges many existing wildland fire science theories and modelling tools. For example, issues with the prediction of fuel structure effects in current operational models have been identified and for more complex, detailed physics-based models (i.e. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)) fuel structural features often occur at the sub-grid scale and must therefore be described in bulk-terms by representative sub-models.


The first part of this project will involve laboratory-scale experiments to investigate the fine-scale effects of vegetation structure at the sub-fuel bed level (e.g. properties of individual pine needles in a litter layer). This will build upon recent work, conducted as part of an MEng project, which observed a possible influence of particle structure on the combustion of small-scale natural fuel beds, in a short series of preliminary experiments. This provides additional motivation for this PhD project which will consider a more detailed, systematic study and will particularly investigate the influence of sub-fuel bed structure on the burning rate of wildland fuels including investigation of the underlying physical phenomena (e.g. fluid flow, heat transfer). This is of particular importance given recently observed issues with existing operational wildfire models (e.g. Rothermel model) and given the ongoing development of burning rate descriptors for next-generation operational models.


The second part of the project will assess the ability of terrestrial LiDAR scanners to accurately and repeatably characterize variations in vegetation structure at larger scales (e.g. individual trees/shrubs to field plots). This will include a particular focus on quantifying the temporal variation of vegetation as a result of climate stresses or landscape management decisions and linking these structural variations to existing structural parameters commonly used in fire modelling.


During this project, you will be part of The Edinburgh Fire Research Centre within the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment. You will join a vibrant community of PhD students, postdoctoral research associates and academics working in various aspects of fire in both the natural and built environment. This is a collaborative and friendly environment and strong teamwork and communication skills are therefore required. 

Further Information: 

Recent talk on the effects of fuel structure on wildfire behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPqXRsMbz18&t=387s

Recent paper on fuel structure effects in Rothermel model: https://www.publish.csiro.au/WF/WF23046

Additional info on next generation operational models: https://ebooks.publish.csiro.au/content/wildland-fire-behaviour

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity

Closing Date: 

Saturday, August 31, 2024
Previous flame spread experiments at the Edinburgh Fire Research Centre

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.

This project would potentially suit candidates from a wide range of backgrounds e.g. those with and undergraduate degree in Engineering, Physics, Environmental Sciences or similar. Experience in a laboratory or experimental environment would be an advantage. We are particularly interested to hear from applicants with experience in fire science/engineering and/or wildfires but this is not essential.


Tuition fees + stipend are available for Home/EU and International students

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: